by Judith Dierkes
Stitched, Celebrating the Art of Quilting at Crosstown Arts in Memphis is a summer exhibition comprised of two shows, Masterworks and Blue, on display May 10 – July 28, 2019, around which a significant amount of programming – in the form of workshops, presentations and meet ups – has been organized by artist Paula Kovarik. Directly outside of Crosstown Art’s exhibition space, an interactive build-your-own-quilt wall beckons participation (and has done so since before the shows were installed), and I suspect it will remain long after the shows are gone; a metal base and magnetic blocks allow for endless experiments in traditional simple square and triangle quilt block construction. Justin Thompson made a film collage, A Quilt Story, of these locals’ stories about a quilt they made or love. This film, along with another short film including local quilter interviews, guilds and projects, screen in the film gallery near the other exhibits.
Antarctica by Matthew Bostick, 24″x 24″
Masterworks is a two-year traveling exhibition of abstract and geometric art quilts made by members of the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). Martha Sielman, Executive Director of SAQA, organized the show and wrote the catalogue for it. On the opening weekend of the show at Crosstown Arts, she delivered a lecture entitled Art Quilts Unfolding: 50 Years of Innovation, discussing the history of art quilts since 1965. It was a trip down memory lane for me. I was the regional representative for SAQA for a few years and familiar with many of the artists in the presentation. The organization was instrumental in my development as an art quilter, and the educational component of the organization has contributed to the elevation of the art quilt (similar to what Chihuly did for glass).
Paula Kovarik’s Round and round it goes, a free-motion, repurposed tablecloth that appeared both in the exhibition and Martha’s lecture, appeals to my passion for whitework and texture in quilting. Over half of the 29 pieces in the show are machine quilted, which doesn’t usually appeal to me, and that is one reason I am drawn into Generated Topology by Kathy Weaver. The airbrushed satin is magical. Susan Koren batiked, discharged, collaged and hand stitched Keeping Still; surface design techniques add unique features in art quilts.
In keeping with the quilt guild tradition, a quilt challenge was issued to form the Blue exhibit. For a modest entrance fee, anyone could enter up to three 24” x 24” quilts made of mostly the color blue. Unlike the juried show, only tiny tags identifying the maker of the piece provide any information about the work. Stacked 3 pieces high in Crosstown Art’s East Gallery, the 200+ blocks result in an overwhelming sight at first glance. Perhaps due to the amount of work in the show and the way they are presented, I gravitate to the more sculptural work. The Hexagonal Accordion Book by Nysha Oren Nelson resembles porcelain at first glance. The quilting in Antarctica, by Matthew Bostick, is the strength of the piece. Varying a tight stitch for the water and leaving large areas unquilted for the land mass is inspired. Some of the more unusual materials in this show include jars of blue water, paper, wood, and bubble wrap. In the small room off the main gallery Bernice Johnson is featured. It seems she made two pieces that fit into the challenge guidelines and then a few of her bed quilts are displayed. The old standard Crown Royal Quilt had a fun border made from bag ties.
Outside of the exhibition space in Crosstown Arts common area, they feature work by two artists, Greely Myatt and Pat Pauly. Pat Pauly’s Genesee flanks the outer wall space between the two shows. She is a member of SAQA but wasn’t included in Masterworks and her piece didn’t fit the criteria for the Blue challenge. It bothers me to see raw fabric lying on the floor. One of the challenges for makers of art quilts is the vulnerability of fabric, especially in public places where people like to touch.
In the same common space, I attended a session in April at which quilters were invited to spend five minutes each showing and discussing cherished quilts, and in June they hosted Memphis Quilts, a meet up that included Nancy McDonough’s evaluation of four quilts. She focused on insurance value and cost estimates for fabric, pattern, batting, prizes awarded, machine quilting, wear and size to determine value. I was interested to learn about two things at this meet up: the Weighted Blanket Project for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the Memphis Sewing Guild.
I had the pleasure of meeting Pamela Allen, a Canadian artist working in fabric, after her artist talk. She was one of the artists in residence at Crosstown Arts for the first summer session this year. I agreed with her comment that, while there can be sad associations with the color blue, this was quite a joyful show. She submitted two pieces to Blue and suggested maybe they chose her for a residency because she worked with fabric. A lively discussion about the limitations of the word “quilt” when referring to works of art followed.
Stitched, Celebrating the Art of Quilting fulfills the expectations held within the name of the exhibition. The events surrounding the two shows certainly add to the understanding of what it takes to make a quilt, the stories they tell, and the value of works of art that employ the techniques of quilt making.
The author, Judith Dierkes has been making art quilts, community quilts, and bed quilts for over 20 years and lives in Memphis.